Off the Water Raw: Day Three

Olena Buriak

Henley Royal Regatta has always attracted a strong international contingent. But while the powerhouse teams come from the traditional rowing nations of the USA, New Zealand, Netherlands and Germany, there is a particular poignancy around an entry from Ukraine. We spoke to Ukranian rower Olena Buriak who was racing with her teammate Agnieszka Kobus-Zawojska from Poland ahead of their race on Friday in the Stonor Challenge Trophy for women’s double sculls.

Olena Buriak (left) & Agnieszka Kobus-Zawojska (right) | © Sunset Vine

Tell me how the partnership came around

[Agnieszka] It was always my dream to come here because it’s not only about rowing but about rowing experience, so I asked Olena if she wanted to compete with me because I think we can show lots.

Olena, How did you end up with Agnieszka?

[Olena] We’ve been rowing together for about a month and a half but have been talking for about four months. 

Where were you when the war broke out in Ukraine?

[Olena] Well the war started and there were explosions in my city, I was woken up in my sleep by the explosions. Within a few hours, Agnieska messaged me on Instagram and asked how I was so she said come to Poland, so I did, and that was the right decision I think. 

And how are you finding your whole Henley experience? What do you make of the event?

[Olena] I am very satisfied and very happy to be here, this is a good experience for me and also it’s a big challenge for me and it’s a celebration, it is not only about rowing but about friendship. 

Agnieszka, how are you finding adapting to racing in a double? Normally you’re in the quadruple sculls?

[Agnieszka] Oh it’s completely different! I am not so strong, and Olena in my opinion is the strongest rower in the world. It’s totally different but we will see! I hope things take us to the better position.

What are your hopes?

[Agnieszka] My hopes are to win the first race! We will see, but I only focus on the first race!

Olena how would you describe Agnieszka, how is your friendship and all she’s done?

[Olena] She has done a lot for me. She has gotten me a lot of support, mental support and physical support also, giving me great accommodation, also I have some new experience with rowing with Agnieszka, I’ve learnt new exercises for example. 

What will you take back from this experience?

[Olena] I always try to show the best of my country and I hope everyone supports that, not just family and friends. We really feel the support here, from the whole rowing community.  

Victor Kleshnev & James Cartwright

Another doubles pair teaming up for the first time are not from different countries but from different American universities. Victor Kleshnev goes to Harvard, James Cartwright goes to Northeastern. They won their first race in the Double Sculls Challenge Cup against the Dutch pair Mulder & Boonstra. They face Liu and Heese (USA) in the next round – if they beat them they’ll meet George Bourne and Matt Heywood (GB double that went to World Cup 1).

So tell us about your race, how was it?

[James Cartwright] Very good, very good, it was mine and Victor’s first time competing in an open doubles event so super happy. The plan was to have a no thrills race, get it done, on to the next one

How were the conditions?

[James Cartwright]  The start wasn’t too bad, the conditions have calmed down a bit compared to recent which is nice! Got a little choppy towards the end, we definitely felt that!

The both of you are both on the GB development programme aren’t you?

[Victor Kleshnev] Yep, we’re both studying at American Universities so James goes to Northeastern and I’m at Harvard. It’s quite common to train at international universities now and there’s a programme set up that allows for this. As soon as we come back in early June we’re straight back in the thick of it. So we’ve been training in this combination for about two and a half weeks so we’ve really gone in and hit the ground running. 

Who else do you have your eyes on for the rest of the event?

[James Cartwright] There’s the other GB double of Matt Haywood and George Bourne. We’ve been paddling with them out at Caversham. Next up we’re against the lightweights from America, so if we get past them we’ll be facing Matt and George - so it could be a GB head to head.

[Victor Kleshnev] That would be great fun!

Lauren Henry

Thursday was a big day for the doubles and singles and we spoke to Lauren Henry from Leicester Rowing Club competing in the Princess Royal Challenge Cup. In a thrilling run the 19-year-old made it to the final in her Henley debut last year. This year she has been short of match practice but came through her first race against AMJ Walters from St George’s College.

Lauren Henry | Princess Royal Challenge Cup | ©

A great performance in the first round, how was the race for you?

It was lovely to get back out on the water. I’ve been injured for quite a while, since Henley last year mostly, and the Metropolitan Regatta was my first one back. So this is one of my first ones back! Even though I’ve been out I’ve really made gains with my fitness, pretty much just locking myself in my garage to train on the bike for many many hours.

Obviously you were one of the big stories of the regatta last year, how is that impacting you for this year’s regatta? Are you finding there’s a lot of pressure on you?

I feel like this year I’m a bit less of an unknown, equally I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I may not be the tallest sculler or the most experienced sculler,  I’m probably the youngest in this category, but i’ve still got two arms, two legs and a boat so I feel like i’m going to take it one day at a time, and every match up I’m going in with the belief that I could win it. 

With Emma Twigg’s withdrawal from the competition, how are you feeling with this potentially now opening up the draw and the event?

Obviously she’s Olympic champion so you’d expect her to do very well. I would have had to get to the final to face her anyway so she wasn’t on my radar til I get there but it should be interesting. It’s probably really opened it up in the final as Lobnig has also pulled out of that side of the draw, so that side is now really open, it will be interesting to see what happens.

Who else do you have your eyes on in the draw?

So I think tomorrow I may potentially be facing Kara Kohler if she wins her heat today [Kohler beat fellow American Bridget Kennedy] obviously she’s a very talented sculler, she’s a world medalist and an Olympic bronze, so that’s potentially my next round and I’m up for the right so we’ll see what happens!

So you’re representing Leicester, they must be very proud!

Yes! So I’ve been rowing at Leicester Rowing Club since I was 14, and my coach there has been coaching me right up til April this year. I’m really grateful for everything Leicester Rowing Club have done for me and they’ve really made me the sculler I am today so really thankful, really proud to be representing them at this regatta. They don’t get much representation here so I feel it’s really good and it’s great to show that even though you’re from a small club that may not have the resources as bigger clubs it’s great that at Henley you can still come and race against the big dogs. It’s about how you make do with what you have.